Daisy Noakes (b.1908): Life and Labour

‘She said my wage would start at my age, £14 a year and I could start my work as soon as I attained my 14thbirthday’ (p.47)

From the outset of the memoir until the day Daisy joins service, her life consists of duties around her home and around her local area. These duties require strength and manual labour with little to no time for her own leisure. She is so accustomed to her harsh reality that it becomes a normality, especially in her young years. Daisies mother was sent into service at the age of 11, three years prior to Daisy. Her sisters Emily, Lily and Elsie all went into service also, aside from Ena, who often dealt with epileptic fits. She was destined to enter the world of domestic service from birth. Moreover, Daisies mother firmly believed in a strong work ethic, ‘if you want money, the only way to be sure is to work for it.’ (p.45). She engrained this idea into her children as they grew up. Furthermore, Daisies sisters stood as role models, her sister Lily already in service at Ovingdean Hall ‘spoke for her’ (p.46).

Daisies first set of paid work prior to service was carrying out domestic duties for the scout master from her school. She was then recommended farther down the road at another house. This house owned a pork butchers where Daisy would ‘make tea for the men who served, I got an extra 3d for this.’ (p.44) She would follow these jobs after carrying heavy washing to the laundrette, ‘resting it now and again on garden walls.’ (P.45) As the weeks went by Daisy joined the Co-Op Penny Bank, weekly depositing her ‘huge wage.’ (p.45) Despite her beginning to gain independence and earn a living, she often complained to her mother about her hardships and hours of labour. Her new responsibilities gave her a higher-level of discipline and routine. However, from this point onwards her childhood at home begins to blur into a memory. 

‘My hours were from 5.30am to 10.30pm and no let-up anywhen during that time. How I stayed awake I do not know’ (p.48)

Part two of the memoir consists of Daisies new world away from the ‘comforts’ of home. Her initial feelings of fear engulf her, ‘my sister was not one of my room mates and I felt so miserable.’ (p.48)  She acquires the position of third dormitory maid where her responsibilities were endless. Most were to be completed before breakfast. Small amounts of leisure time and freedom were taken away, ‘there was no early morning cup of tea.’ (p.51) Despite this, she learns about her trade, perfecting it. Her class is not only reflected outside her workplace but inside also, ‘I soon found out where I fit in.’ (p.51) She must constantly fight to earn her place in the world of work. Her life continued, almost becoming a monotony, ‘this is how life went on Daily, but I felt more confidence in myself, and more happy than at first.’ (p.54) She begins to form friendships which heighten her social life within her work. She gets to experience fellowship away from home. ‘You notice I mention Edie a lot, we were the same age and started the same day, we had quite a bit in common.’ (P.66) They used their leisure time twice a week to visit the village shop on Longhill Road. ‘if we wanted anything there it was best to climb over the school wall, opposite the shop.’ (p.56) One day this caused Edie an extreme accident when she ‘turned her ankle as she jumped… we were then forbidden to go that way’ (p.56). She finds exhilaration through her friendship with Edie. She also meets her husband George through her while being Edie’s ‘chaperone’ on a date with him.

Illustration of The Village Shop by Joseph Skinner- ‘Important village amenity opened c1923’
Run by Mr and Mrs Churchman. Daisy remembers, ‘If something was asked for that she hadn’t in stock, she would get it by the following day.’ (p.57)

Daisy begins to become self-sufficient, relying on her income for everyday essentials. ‘the rest of my money had to buy tooth-paste writing paper and envelopes… it was a real pleasure to buy a chocolate bar if a few pence were left over.’ (p.56) She often describes her mishaps within her job that add a layer of humour to her memoir. ‘I turned my ankle and down I went with two pails of mixed toilet water cascading down a flight of stairs round a bend and down the next flight… I had no time to rub my bruises.’ (p.57) Eventually Daisy begins to tire from her menial jobs, working around the clock. The head butler eventually offered Daisy the position of the parlour maid on the ‘private side’. She is delighted with her new placement: ‘No more dormitory work or classrooms- that was all behind me. I had the highest job under the butler.’ (p.58) Although she endured many strenuous tasks as dormitory maid, she never exploits her trade but speaks about her struggles intertwined with an element of humour. Bread argues, ‘As a generalization, the less literate the writer, the less he was involved in specific activities of self-improvement or political activity, the greater his preoccupation with the details of his life as a worker’. In Daisies case, her memoir was written in retrospect rather than in the moment. Hence, we are unaware of her literacy rate as a child. Daisies life revolved around the working world and her need for an income, therefore she provides us with extensive details of her many jobs. Daisy recognises the advantages of different classes in her new position: ‘They had so much food…How they got through it all I do not know. I came to the conclusion they were hollow to start with.’ (p.60)Towards the end of her memoir Daisy begins to make enough money to provide herself with clothes of her choice, ‘I felt rich.’ (p.72) After a changing of hands resulting in harsh treatment towards Daisy, she soon handed her notice in without receiving references, ‘Although I had been at the school for five years’.

Picture of Daisy taken straight from her memoir at Ovingdean Hall, 1924


Noakes, Daisy, (1975) ‘The Town Beehive, a young girl’s lot Brighton 1910-1934’, Brighton, QueenSpark Books.

Bread, V 1982, Week 10: Knowledge and Freedom, lecture notes, Writing Lives: A Collaborative Research Project on Working-Class Autobiography 6118ENGL-201920, Liverpool John Moores University. 


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